Q&A With Erasto Fitz Maxwell Robertson: ‘I have grown to know this country fairly well, but it is in getting lost that you get to know the country’.
A ranger’s job is more multifaceted than it may appear from the outside looking in. Each day can be different than the previous — mainly because the assignments are so
wide-ranging, and, in part, because rangers never know what type of conditions might come their way. Duties can include tour guiding, manning visitor centres, patrolling vast areas under their jurisdiction, enforcing regulations, coordinating education programs and serving as emergency responders in cases of misadventure.
Erasto Fitz Maxwell Robertson is one of the many hard-working rangers around the world.
He has an instantly likeable and refreshing personality, and is as down to earth and cool as the forests he protects. Being a park ranger for close to 20 years he is chocked full of knowledge and stories that float along easily as he converses with the dulcet rhythms of his Vincentian accent.
When he isn’t climbing a volcano or discovering new waterfalls, he can be found teaching a class of students about the flora and fauna of one of the nature trails on his range.
As one of two rangers based at the National Parks, Rivers and Beaches Authority in
St. Vincent and the Grenadines — a multi-island country well known for its rainforest eco-adventures and boasting 35 protected areas — Erasto is responsible for the northwestern flank of the tropical island.
In his two decades as a ranger, he has seen his fair share of spectacles of nature. Prior to that, he worked as a schoolteacher.
Erasto sat down for a virtual chat with Communications Officer, Jay Van Meerbeeck, and he provided a glimpse into life as a park ranger. The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Q: Do you have a nickname?
Everybody calls me ‘Rasto’. It’s a shortened version of ‘Erasto’. My parents named me Fitz Maxwell Robertson. However, somewhere midstream, I have realized that the name did not quite fit the character that I think I am, and I choose to use Erasto. It is a name in relation to peace. I am very much of a person working towards peace. I adopted that name about my mid-teens and that’s the name that is most popular presently.
Q: What did you do before you became a ranger with the National Parks Authority?
Ah, interesting question. I’ve been doing a number of things before becoming a ranger. I was trained as a primary school teacher, but then I went back to farming which I was good at. I spent some time farming and also making crafts, but I was always in love with the environment, the forests, beaches and the waterfalls. This is what I’ve been doing over the years until there was a National Park Authority established on the island.
Q: Do you have a particular moment or a memory that stands out from your youth when you fell in love with nature?
It’s always been there. My father at a very early age was a lover of the beach. We were always at the beach from the time I knew myself. I was always swimming with him or he was often carrying me on his back. So it started very early and growing up on a farm, that too would have contributed. I grew up between Troumaca and Rosehall, which are communities that are at the top of the ranges and I was exposed to the best that nature could offer. I was always curious and excited about going from point to point, seeing more things; seeing what there was to offer.
Q: How long have you been a ranger and what does it entail?
I’ve been a ranger for almost 20 years. Being a ranger with the national parks demands a lot more. As a matter of fact, our Director usually says we are ‘Rangers Plus’. I serve basically as the conduit between management at the headquarters of the National Parks Authority and the staff at all the sites that fall within my range. This includes the beaches, rivers, waterfalls and the trails; all of which have to be managed at the standard that is satisfactory for visitor use. So this is where my role comes in.
Q: What special traits do rangers need?
Wow. Well, you have to love the environment, have a love for your country and for improvement. You have to love people and be conscious that you are a custodian of a very fragile ecosystem and whatever is done can either enhance or destroy it. The personality has to fit in with that environment, so that you are not too challenged by the things that are not very comfortable. Some people who are not prepared for the job complain about some of the locations that we have to traverse. However, if you have a love for the job, then you won’t complain that you have to do stuff like that. You just have to fit into to the environment to be a ranger.
Q: Can you talk about what you enjoy most about your job?
It’s an outdoor job. I’m a very much an outdoor person. It takes me to the places I love to be. It offers all the opportunities to do the things I like. I get to interact with people, which is one of my first loves. I’m very much comfortable with the job. It may not be the best paying job, but it’s the most wonderful job.
Q: Do you have a typical day?
It could be anything from being on the move from as early as 7:00 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. and it could take all day until maybe 9 p.m. It really depends. Work can take me to the trails or hiking over the La Soufriere volcano. It could be going to the furthest and most wonderful waterfall: the Falls of Baleine. My day can comprise of going by foot, by boat, anything. You just never know.
Q: You mentioned that your assignments can take you to a variety of environments, sometimes even to the remote areas. Do you ever get bored of the job, especially after seeing the same areas for 20 years?
Hey, I wish I could get bored (laugh). There’s nothing out there to really bore you. There are some challenges. This job entails enforcing and anytime enforcement agencies get in the picture you can find yourself in some interesting situations. Sometimes confrontations are a must, but who prefers to be in confrontation? There are times when we find illegal mining. We have persons doing things contrary to the way things should be done. So there are these kinds of challenges that pop up in between. I don’t think I ever get bored.
Q: What about loneliness? Do you ever get lonely while on patrols?
(Laugh) That’s a good question. I have a personality that has grown accustomed to loneliness. As a matter of a fact, being alone is very much to my advantage sometimes. As a farmer, I have grown very much accustomed to being alone. Those periods alone are when your thoughts go deep, the time when your dreams widen and you get that chance to be with yourself. So being alone is usually used to my advantage. Other than that, I’m so busy interacting with people from point to point, you know, it’s just amazing.
Q: You seem to be an expert on everything from agriculture to nature. Where do you gather all your information?
Well, I attended what I call the ‘University of Life’ (Troumaca, St. Vincent) and anyone who grew up in these communities and had an interest in learning anything, ended up with a fair amount of knowledge.
I’ll tell you what I believe. I also had this knowledge from the time that I came into being. It comes from the exposure that I had from primary (elementary) school. The community I grew up in was very much submerged in agriculture and the school itself had a program where students got involved from a very early age. So, apart from growing up on a farm, I got involved with agriculture at school. That is what really drove me to be who I am.
Q: How often do you get to share your knowledge with students?
Wow, nice, that has always been one of my greatest pleasures, to interact with students. I was trained as a teacher and teaching was actually my first love. So, the desire to interact with students still remains with me and will remain with me the rest of my life. Very frequently we have schools visiting our sites, and regularly we are expected to be the guide, to be the receptionist, to be almost everything when these students come in on site. It’s not only at our sites, but we are often asked to participate in activities in schools and it really is a pleasure.
Q: Let me ask you a silly question. Do you ever get lost while on the job or have you ever gotten lost?
(Laugh) I don’t think it is a silly question, because we do get lost. But we do find ourselves. I have grown to know this country fairly well, but it is in getting lost that you get to know the country. Sometime it takes years before you make a second visit to a particular location and you depend on trail markers to guide your way. And sometime these markers are gone. So sometimes, it takes a while before you actually find your bearings. Then you were lost, but you are found again.
Q: I like that. What about helping persons who get lost while on the trails?
There were a few occasions over the years. Our trails are particularly well defined, so we hardly have any persons getting lost easily. However, we do have persons who are inquisitive enough to wander off and occasionally we do to go ‘sound a voice’ and locate them.
Q: I know you have traversed the entire island, but do you have a favorite spot that you absolutely love?
I do have a favourite site. How did it become my favourite spot? Well, I stumbled upon the Dark View Falls many decades ago. I’ve always enjoyed taking my family and children to the river. Well, while at the river, we met some kids who said that they were going to ‘The Falls’. Despite visiting that same location dozens and dozens of times before, I had never seen or known about the falls. As soon as the kids mentioned the word ‘Falls’, I decided that my family and I would be going along with them. On arrival, I was so taken aback; we spent more than two hours enjoying it. I have never given up on it since that day.
Q: Are there any dangers you face while on the job?
Fortunately for me as a ranger, there aren’t many dangerous animals on my range. However, there are insects that we sometimes ‘rob’ and they sometimes retaliate. I remember quite clearly visiting my first petroglyph — around age seven or eight– together with my sisters. The petroglyph is located approximately 10 minutes away from the farm we grew up on. So, I fell in love with this site and visited it from time to time. Unbeknownst to me, a colony of bees had always been hidden somewhere in the rock where the petroglyph is found. One day while visiting with friends, I made a single error. I was carrying a machete and it vibrated after striking the rock. This caused the bees to feel threatened. They zoomed out from their hive and we were bitterly attacked.
Q: Apart from the encounter with the bees, do you have to deal with wildlife often?
Yes. Wildlife is part of the whole equation. You encounter wildlife on the job every day. You see many birds or hear the birdcalls and we find animals tracks. We actually interact all day with wildlife and there’s nothing more amazing than that. The things that some of the animals do at times in your presence, it’s just interesting. There are a few snakes around, but the mongoose is very popular and we see it several times a day. They are very much up close and personal to us.
Q: Many rangers have to work in really difficult locations. Any thoughts as we prepare to celebrate World Ranger day on the July 31st and recognize the accomplishments and sacrifices by rangers around the world.
One of the greatest dangers a ranger has to face is not usually from animals. As rangers, we can mitigate the dangers that arise when dealing with the animals. The real danger many times comes from people bent on doing things their way. We have to be very mindful of livelihood issues, but the environment has to be protected as well. There must be a balance between livelihood issues and environmental protection. However, not all stakeholders extracting things from the environment are aware of that. Some can be so bitter and so dangerous in their quest that they become the more dangerous element. Rangers have to be able to strike a balance and be very mindful of how to deal with those elements of the job.
Q: Do you have a motto or a mantra that gets you through the day?
Yes, there’s something that I got from my father from a very young age. He went through a lot of challenges. Despite the challenges, there was an expression he kept on repeating: “No ill wind blow”. Meaning, regardless of the circumstances, there is something positive you can find in it. This saying has stuck with me and I have come to realise what he meant when he said so. I am driven by his proverb all the time. So, even when the challenges pop up, I try to find if there is something I could learn or where I could make things better. “No ill wind blow”
Q: Fill in the blanks. I will miss ________when I retire from this job?
I will miss the interaction with staff. What has been happening on the job is what has been happening all my life; that is, interacting with people. The only moments I am really alone is while I am in the fields, — when I’m farming– or when there are no workers around.
When I retire I would be doing some interaction, but the staff that I’ve grown accustomed to for the past 20 years will be busy in the office. And I think that’s what I will be missing, the interaction with them.